Tired. Tired is what we have been for the last 20 months.
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. And next week we move on to some of the bright and positive things that the Monk represents. And truthfully, we are so grateful, happy and blessed. The Café is successful and has exceeded our expectations across the board. But dayum people. We spend most of our time just trying to put another foot in front of the other. Between all the planning, driving, creating, cleaning, baking, shopping, emailing, ordering, pay rolling, operating, it can be difficult to find living, relaxing, enjoying, breathing, sleeping, eating, resting, gaming, friending.
Gene and I once sat down to discuss the year that had passed by, our first year being self-employed. We both agreed without much hesitation that it was the hardest year of our lives. And remember, three kids. And we’re in our thirties. We’ve been through challenges, we’ve been through hardships, none of us avoid those and they are real. But we agreed that 2015-2016 was the hardest year of our lives.
My small business mentor used to love to observe that: “Most people think that self-employment will be so great because you will get to set your own hours. Okay. Which 80 hours a week would you like to work?”
For the first year-and-a-half I worked 80 hours a week, six days a week, with a one-day weekend that easily turned into more work if I wasn’t very careful. One day of rest in a 7-day week feels like coming up for a breath of air once every 70 seconds. It gets harder each time simply because you’re not getting enough air to breathe. It’s not sustainable. Now I work a 5-day week but it’s still 60ish hours. When you get home from that 60-hour week you come home to three young budding, growing, changing, transforming children who need you around and emotionally available. Or you’re a bad father. Way to go Dad. Gene is in the exact same boat and I honestly don’t know how she manages under the weight of her responsibilities sometimes.
But you know what helps when you’re Tired? Knowing that you are not alone. Because we’re all tired. Everyone is working hard. And we’re all in it together. Last week I briefly compared owning a small business to having a small child, and, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. We are tremendously helped by being a part of the villages. The village of small business owners in Hamilton, the village we have created within the Monk (Steven, William, Cat and now Charlotte – we have an amazing team guys, thank you so much!) and the Monk Village, the village of enthusiastic gamers who like, follow, share and support the things that happen here. The Monk doesn’t exist and couldn’t thrive without all these villages raising her up. We thank YOU, readers of blogs, drinkers of Lattes, rollers of dice, and everyone who supports this community. Sincerely and with felt emotion. You have no idea how good it is to see a smiling and supportive face in the store during a week when you secretly feel exhausted and terrified of the future. We have AMAZING customers whom we truly love and adore.
And at the end of all of that, the last thing that keeps us going through it all. We serve Coffee and Beer.
My beloved wife, Glorygene, and I, opened Hamilton’s second Board Game Café, Mancala Monk, in November 2015. We had no idea what we were doing. But that’s not true, that’s just how we felt. It’s not unlike when you have your first child. You plan, prepare, you are literally Purpose personified; but you quickly are made to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. In the months prior to Opening Day, we did everything we could to make sure we weren’t driving our lives directly into the ground. That’s a whole story itself. All the discussion, dreaming, planning, research, interviews, sleepless nights; the back-and-forthing; the risk calculation; the wild internal oscillations; the leap; the birth.
A small business is a lot like a small child; it’s amazing how many times Gene and I mused over that and noticed all the similarities in the first months after lil’ Mancala was born. Mancala Monk is our first business, our fourth child. So, we know what it’s like to have a tiny project tear away every ounce of freedom and sanity you once held so precious. Pfffft, Sanity, so over-rated. (Side note: In August, we are taking the Monk staff on a road trip to GenCon50 in Indianapolis. One of the seminars Gene and I signed up for is called “Small Business Sanity Reclamation”. Can’t wait!)
According to Startupcan.ca, “Current survival rates for small and medium-sized businesses decline over time.” About 70% survive the 2-year mark and only 50% survive the 5-year mark. Thankfully, that is where the analogy breaks down; infant mortality rates in Canada are much, much better. (That was supposed to be funny). 50% is about on par with marriages by the way, but that’s a whole other analogy. The idea is, the longer a business survives, the more likely it is to continue to survive; small ones don’t survive as often as big ones; and while almost any small business can force itself to survive a year or two, if it isn’t healthy and sustainable and growing, it won’t last much longer than that. It’s HARD work. And the death of an infant is no easy thing.
The question we get the most is, “What made you do it? Why open the Cafe?” I never have a good answer to that question. I usually say something along the lines of, “We thought it was a good idea.” “We like a challenge.” “We love Board Games and Coffee.” It’s hard to say. No one ever asks, “Why did you choose to have children?” I probably wouldn’t have a good answer to that either.
Opening a small business, like all major, high-impact life decisions, is a decision you make somewhere in your viscera, not in your brain. Your brain is, hopefully, involved. But I don’t think your brain ever decides to do it, you realize that you have already decided. You agonize, work and educate your mind up to a point, but eventually your viscera take over, make all the intangible calculations that are beyond your conscious awareness and then produce an answer that your mind becomes aware of later. And you’re just as shocked as anybody else.
“So … we’re really gonna do this?”
And then she looked back at me and smiled, “Yeah. Let’s have another one.”
Full disclosure: I was told to start a Blog to increase traffic to our website to improve SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that more people can find us on Google. At first, I thought, “I don’t care that much and don’t have time for that.” But then I thought, “(1) I could Blog, I’m a decent writer, (2) that might be fun, and (3) there might be a good number of people out there who would be interested in the life, mind and experiences of a young, first-time entrepreneur, the budding business him and his wife began, and the world of Board Games that we all love.” I’m a good writer, but even I can’t resist the allure of long, itemized, run-on-sentences.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the origin story of the new Mancala Monk Blog. Welcome. We hope you will follow along and enjoy. My goal is to write an engaging post about once a week which will let you, the reader, inside and behind-the-scenes; into the inner life of a young #hamont small-business and the people who are behind it. We hope you will get to know us, the Monk and the world of table-toppery a little bit better.
I also promise to keep things short and snappy. Terse and to the point. COMPACT AND CONCISE. Non-garrulous and non-circumlocutory. I am being ironic, of course, but I mean it. Which is why this post is finished and you will have to wait until next week for more. #TLDRisreal